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Another 17 Hectares of Tamok Lake Carved Out for Gov’t Agencies

An overview of Tamok Lake in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, February 26, 2021. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)
An overview of Tamok Lake in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, February 26, 2021. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)

Three government institutions are receiving 17 hectares of the Tamok Lake in northwestern Phnom Penh, a lake that has been handed in piecemeal to private and public interest groups.

The 17 hectares carved out of Tamok Lake were detailed in three separate sub-decrees published in the Royal Gazette. Ten hectares of land was given to the Health Ministry, four to the Civil Services Ministry and three to Phnom Penh Municipal Police.

Sar Theth, chief of Phnom Penh Municipal Police, confirmed the force was given three hectares of land at Tamok Lake but said the new plot would be used as an extension to the current police headquarters in Russey Keo district.

“The current municipal police headquarters will not be relocated, but the new site will serve as a training and logistical facilities to store equipment and park vehicles for the headquarters,” Sar Theth told VOA Khmer.

Asked how the municipal police had managed to secure the new land plot, Sar Theth said, “The fact is that the land is granted, why are you still curious? This new facility will serve the unit’s collective interests, and is not for my personal benefits.”

Civil Services Minister Prum Sokha and Health Ministry Secretary of State Or Vandine could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The Health Ministry is currently located in Tuol Kork district, at the National Institute for Public Health, after being moved next to the Peace Palace several years ago.

The Health Ministry was previously given 20 hectares of the same lake in late December to build a new branch of the state-run Calmette Hospital.

By the time the three sub-decrees were issued in mid-February, a total of 849 hectares or 26 percent of Tamok Lake had been allocated to state agencies and private individuals, according to figures compiled by VOA Khmer.

The Defense Ministry was granted the largest slice of this land, getting nearly 300 hectares to construct a “long-term strategic military command center” for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

The Phnom Penh Municipality was granted 75 hectares of the lake’s area to construct parks.

Two individuals, Uy Bovy and Kong Sothy, were jointly given 196.5 hectares in December with no explanation of who they were or why they've been given state land. Late tycoon Suy Sophan and a firm named Shin Jin Mou each received 45 hectares as well.

Land Management Minister Chea Sophara’s daughter, Chea Sophamaden, was given more than 10 hectares of land from the lake.

Government Spokesperson Phay Siphan said the state would not occupy and fill in the entire lake, because “some of the lakeside” would be preserved and deepened to aid the capital’s sewage system and for flood mitigation.

The Council of Ministers' official said state institutions would use the land grants to serve the public interests and that land given to private individuals was a form of “exchange.”

“Grants to private individuals and companies are what we call “exchange”, not free handouts, but trading the land against construction costs or building and land plots in the city center which are needed by the state,” Phay Siphan said.

According to the government’s plan, seen by VOA Khmer, a 60-meter-wide road is being constructed to cut across the lake from its northwest to southeast, and another parallel 60-meter-wide road would be built between the Defense Ministry’s proposed facility and the new campus of Calmette Hospital on the lake’s western side.

In a 39-page report released this week, “Boeung Tamok or Boeung Kobsrov: Facts and Figures”, Samakum Teang Tnaut organization warned that current land allocations at Tamok Lake “could lead to severe deleterious effects for the country.”

The developments of the lake lacked transparency and proper studies on the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts, the report reads.

“No further development should occur until the issues outlined in this research are further investigated, publicly reported on, and deliberated upon by representatives of the public, CSOs, and environmental scientists,” the report reads.